Category Archives: BMA Archives

Spatial Recognition

Print Exhibition Room, circa 1932-1940. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP003_002.

Print Exhibition Room, circa 1932-1940. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP003_002.

Melissa Wertheimer, BMA Archives intern

My love for archival research and processing began during my graduate studies at the Peabody Institute where I studied flute and piccolo. I’ve worked in the Peabody Institute Archives with special collections of music manuscripts, photographs, recordings, and ephemera. At the Walters Art Museum Archives, my work with curatorial records and special collections led to a lecture about the museum’s own Monuments Man. I was thrilled to expand my historical knowledge of Baltimore’s great artistic institutions during my five-month internship in the BMA Archives.

My first project at the BMA Archives was sponsored by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC): processing the photographs, negatives, and slides related to the BMA’s architectural history. The Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection provides a visual timeline of the museum and the surrounding property’s physical growth, architectural changes, renovations, and various uses.

To boil down the contents of this collection to one word, it is all about space: why we create it, who it’s for, how it’s used, what it represents, and what the literal and figurative boundaries are. As a budding archivist in 2015 Baltimore, these questions hold particular relevance as I watch my adopted Baltimore home evolve. I’ve lived here for seven years, and I can’t help but notice that this city’s abundance of historical architecture serves as a quiet, nostalgic onlooker to change. I find it ironic and poetic that change is the consistent tie between old and new.

As a trained musician, especially a performer of contemporary music, these philosophical questions about space are vital to my understanding of artistic intent and creative musical programming.  When I perform, the space itself is important to me. Not merely the venue, but the layout of the space, the acoustics, and the allowance for movement. Professional musicians are used to adjusting for acoustics; the amount of reverb in a space directly affects how fast or slow a piece can be played without muddiness. But, I often feel the experience of sharing music in spaces with others falls short because the audience is a faraway clump of people. I’ve found that the slightest adjustments in performer/audience proximity and seat orientation make a world of difference. I even move about a space as I perform if that choice enhances the musical experience. I play with space in these ways to not only enhance the “weirdness” or “novelty” of a contemporary work, but also to breathe new life into canonical repertoire. In these ways, the concept of space itself is a vehicle for change.

During the four months I worked on the Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, one space struck me more than any other to mirror changes at the BMA: the Garden Room (not currently accessible to the public). Depending upon the decade, it could be called many other names: the Print Exhibition Room, the Members Room, the Sales and Rental Gallery, or the Café. Most recently, the Garden Room served as a temporary visitor’s entrance during the Historic Merrick Entrance renovation. This easily adaptable space is located on the ground floor of the BMA’s original John Russell Pope Building with the entrance facing onto the west museum grounds.

The story of this space is best told by the archival photographs themselves. I hope you enjoy the images and that they inspire you to consider the ideas of space and change as you move about any city you call home.


Members Room, 1940s. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP004_001.


Sales and Rental Gallery Publicity Photograph, 1955. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. BGP006_001.


Museum Café, 1969 Apr. Buildings and Grounds Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Baltimore Museum of Art. PC_Cafe1969Apr.

Contact me through my website,  Let’s nerd out together.

Juried and Invitational Exhibitions at the BMA


First Annual Exhibition of Maryland Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1933

As the recently announced 2015 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize finalists prepare for their exhibition at the BMA this summer, I am working with the Archives’ Juried and Invitational Exhibitions Records and giving much thought to the incredible creative output of Maryland’s artists over the past century and the BMA’s role in displaying it.  From the moment the BMA opened its doors in 1923, opportunities for local artists to exhibit their work were a part of each year’s schedule of exhibitions.  With the opening of the John Russell Pope building in 1929, the BMA was able to develop its own exhibitions and expand its relationship with local artists.  The records I am processing as part of the Library and Archives’ NHPRC grant project document group exhibitions such as the BMA’s Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions, the Baltimore International Salon of Photography, and annual exhibitions of the work of members of the Baltimore Water Color Club and the Artists’ Union of Baltimore.

This week I am nearing the end of arranging and describing the largest part of the records, the Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions files (21 boxes of material).  The files document a long-running series of exhibitions of the work of local and regional artists organized by the BMA beginning in 1933.  Following a highly successful series of solo exhibitions at the Museum in 1930 to 1932, space considerations and the number of artists in the state interested in exhibiting work led to the decision to instead hold a major group exhibition for Maryland artists.  Although it wasn’t long before the solo exhibitions started up again, the Maryland and Regional Artists exhibitions continued for nearly 60 years.

Exhibition catalog, Maryland Artists Twentieth Annual Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952

Exhibition catalog, Maryland Artists Twentieth Annual Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952

The contents of the files for each exhibition vary, but most contain material about the logistics of bringing artwork into the BMA and hanging it on the walls, facilitating purchases, and returning the work that remained after the exhibition.  Cards or lists of entries provide information about the work each artist entered.  Some files also contain correspondence with artists, jurors, and museum visitors–complaints and praise for the most part.  Through these letters, it has been interesting to note how each year the challenges of coordinating the exhibitions shifted as the BMA’s staff worked to weather difficulties such as World War II and changes in artistic influences as new art movements made their way to Baltimore.

Perhaps surprising to those who aren’t from Maryland is the number of nationally-known artists who worked in the area between 1933 and 1992: Grace Hartigan, Morris Louis, Lowell Nesbitt, Martin Puryear, Amalie Rothschild, Anne Truitt, and May Wilson, to name a few.  All submitted work to the Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions at least once.  Jurors for the exhibitions also included influential artists, critics, and curators such as Max Weber, Betty Parsons, Richard Tuttle, Sam Hunter, and Dore Ashton.


Grace Hartigan, Maryland Artists Invitational exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1968

In an effort to please artists and visitors and to support its small staff, the BMA revised the format of the exhibitions several times.  A separate exhibition for Maryland crafts was held in 1952, 1953, and 1954.  Beginning in 1953, regional exhibitions including the works of artists from Washington, D.C. and Delaware alternated years with the strictly Maryland exhibitions.  An invitational was attempted in 1968, followed by a move to biennial exhibitions from 1974-1985.  The exhibitions ultimately ended with Maryland by Invitation in 1992 which featured the work of artists Jeff Gates and Lisa Lewenz, but the commitment to Maryland artists lives on through the Sondheim exhibitions, the Baker Artists’ Prize exhibitions, and the Front Room exhibitions in the Contemporary Wing—Baltimore-born artist Sara VanDerBeek’s work is on view now!

A closer look at the BMA Archives

Through a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the BMA Archive is working to provide greater access to some of its most heavily-used collections. As part of my work as the Project Archivist on this grant, I’m processing the Archive’s Photographs Collection: more than 150 boxes (43 linear feet, in archivist-speak) of photographic material documenting exhibitions, events, people, and the BMA grounds from 1923 to the present. The collection provides a rich visual overview of the BMA’s history—and the people and works of art that have shaped the institution.

The BMA’s Archive holds some particular gems, but as with many archival collections, more value can be found in the sum of its parts.

Model of the Waterman house parlor of Warren, Rhode Island, circa 1820, 1943

For example, look at this photograph. At first glance it appears to be a 19th century parlor, or maybe collection of furniture in one of the BMA’s period rooms.

Model of the West Parlor, Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia, 1743-1799, 1943

But looking through other photographs from this exhibition, it quickly becomes apparent that something else is going on here. These images show the intricately decorated interiors of American Rooms in Miniature by Mrs. James Ward Thorne shown at the BMA in 1943.

Other photos demonstrate changes in the BMA’s history over time. The Photographs Collection includes images from many of the Maryland Annual Artist exhibitions throughout the 20th century. Even just a quick glance at the images of the exhibition judges provides an interesting look into the changing tastes and interests of the art world.

Xavier Gonzalez, Concetta Scaravaglione and William Calfee, judges for the Fifteen Annual Maryland Artists exhibition, 1947

Xavier Gonzalez, Concetta Scaravaglione and William Calfee, judges for the Fifteen Annual Maryland Artists exhibition, 1947

Charles Chetham, James Elliott, Richard Tuttle (Kynaston McShine, not pictured), jurors for the 1970 Maryland Annual exhibition, 1970

Charles Chetham, James Elliott, Richard Tuttle (Kynaston McShine, not pictured), jurors for the 1970 Maryland Annual exhibition, 1970

Finding aids for the Photographs Collection, along with the other collections whose processing is generously supported by the NHPRC, are currently being completed. Digital collections and other finding aids can be found on the BMA Archives site.


Improving access to the BMA Archives holdings

This is the second of two posts introducing the BMA Archives. The first post covered what’s in the Archives, and how to find resources and materials.

Men viewing decoration near Museum entrance, The Art of Mary Cassatt exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1941

As you browse through the finding aids for the BMA’s institutional records, you may notice that sometimes there isn’t much information beyond series descriptions.  What if you are researching the work of Mary Cassatt and would like to see photographs of related exhibition installations? You wouldn’t be able to tell from the finding aid that the Archives does have photos of the 1941 exhibition The Art of Mary Cassatt.

Over the past decade, the Archives’ staff—along with volunteers, interns, and Work Study students—has been hard at work improving access to the holdings. This work was given a huge push forward with a 2011 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) that allowed staff to process the entire backlog of nearly 1,000 linear feet of records and create a records management program to manage the flow of material coming to the Archives.  Finding aids are now available for all institutional record groups and manuscripts both on the BMA’s website and via ArchiveGrid.  General descriptions are searchable on WorldCat and the BMA Library’s catalogue.

Baltimore Museum of Art Booth, Baltimore City Fair, 1973

In July of 2014, the BMA received a second grant from the NHPRC that will allow staff to improve upon the work already done and ensure that detailed information is available for the most heavily used materials. The project team will process at either the folder or item level five key collections:

We will also create a plan for the long term digital preservation of material we have already digitized and plan to digitize in the future.

Bianca Hand, Archives Intern, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 2014

Summer Internships with the BMA Archives

If you’re a library school student or recent grad, keep an eye on the BMA’s Employment page for information about the summer internship application process. The NHPRC generously provided funding for six interns to assist with the project. Two interns worked with us in fall 2014 and we hope to have more work with us this spring as well as over the summer. Along with the interns, grant-funded Project Archivist Alexanne Brown joined us in January 2015 and will be responsible for processing the majority of the collections listed above.  Alexanne and the rest of the project team are now hard at work processing the Photograph Collection, Audiovisual Collection, and Juried and Invitational Exhibitions Records.  Look for more posts about what we find in the coming months!


Introduction to the BMA Archives

LS1.2sThe Baltimore Museum of Art, from the south, circa 1940.

Everywhere you look at the BMA, there are connections to history—from the architecture of the John Russell Pope building to the re-creation of Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s apartments. The Museum’s Archives is reflective of this, with a rich array of materials documenting the history of the BMA, as well as the art collectors and other people who have helped shape it from 1914 to the present. Whether you have a scholarly research question or are just curious about the BMA’s past, helpful resources can be found in the Archives.

What’s in the Archives?
The Archives’ collection comprises approximately 1,400 linear feet or almost four football fields of primary source material such as letters, diaries, meeting minutes, photographs, films, audio recordings, architectural plans, research notes, and financial documents.  These are divided into two distinct parts: institutional records and manuscripts. The former are records of the activities of the Museum’s staff, volunteers, and trustees. For example, the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Department Records include curators’ research for exhibitions, correspondence about purchasing works of art, and logistical documents for the Print Fairs.  Manuscripts, on the other hand, are the personal papers of art collectors and others with a connection to the Museum. Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s papers include account books listing their purchases while traveling in Europe, letters from Claribel to Etta describing life in Germany during World War I, and photographs of their apartments in Baltimore.


Front room, Claribel Cone’s apartment (8B), Marlborough Apartments, Baltimore, Maryland

How do I find resources and materials?
To learn more about the materials in the Archives, start by reviewing the finding aids, which are easily keyword searchable with your browser’s find function (Ctrl+f). Because of the volume of material inside each box listed in the finding aids (often hundreds of items), you will find general descriptions of categories of materials called series or sub-series—correspondence, financial records, research, etc. When the significance of the materials warrants more information, detailed folder or item descriptions may also be included.

If you spot something that seems helpful to your research, please contact us. You don’t need to be a BMA member to visit the Archives. All researchers are welcome, by appointment, Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.  To make an appointment, call (443) 573-1778 or email       


Letter from Samuel Putnam Avery to George A. Lucas, August 25, 1895

Membership at the BMA – curing septic stomachs since 1940

Grace Smith in "Temperance" Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940 Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

Grace Smith in “Temperance” Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940
Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm
Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

We’ve always suspected the healing properties of a BMA membership, but a recent find by colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art confirms that joining the BMA will make you well…

Illustrations associated with the exhibit A souvenir of Romanticism in America at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940. Leslie Cheek papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two weeks ago, we received an email from staff at the Archives, noting that they had “uncovered an object in one of our collections which refers to the BMA.” The object – part of the Leslie Cheek papers, 1940-1983 – was an unusual one – a fold-out triptych that depicted three cartoon stomachs, each of which was in a different state of health. The top stomach was a septic stomach, “gangrened by rum and tobacco”; the second one was a sick stomach, “relieved by abstinence but unsatisfied”; finally, the stomach at the bottom of the triptych was a sound stomach, a state achieved “after joining the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Our interest was piqued. Where had this object come from, and what did it refer to? Could we get any more information on it? Would joining the BMA still heal an ailing stomach?

To the BMA Archives!

To solve this mystery, we turned to Emily Rafferty, the BMA’s Head Librarian and Archivist. In short order, she uncovered the wonderful image above, which depicts Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, holding the triptych. In addition, the full description for the piece in our files gives far more context to the stomach cartoon:

Two images from the exhibition, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America (May 10 – August 10, 1940) at The Baltimore Museum of Art. At right is Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, dressed as a woman protesting the consumption of alcohol. The exhibition turned the museum top to bottom into a nineteenth century institution – publications were written in the florid style of the period, costumed actors were hired to greet museum-goers, and a Godey’s Ball was held for the opening. One of the publications was titled, “Popular Poisons, Tract No. 4: Rum and Tobacco” and it appealed to museum-goers to pledge temperance and membership in the Museum. On the left is likely Joseph Katz, a trustee at the time also in costume and holding a sign advertising the exhibition.

There you have it. Not only was the mystery unraveled, but we also get to take a delightful wander down memory lane. It seems like a perfect moment for #throwbackthursday.

What do you think? Does art cure what ails you? Do you have a favorite #throwbackthursday moment? Share it with us. We’d love to hear about the mysteries you’ve uncovered when looking into the past.